Lesley Claire, a prominent mental health professional who privately lived a life of travel and adventure, died Feb. 27 from complications of a perforated ulcer. She was 63.
Claire grew up in Westchester County outside New York City and briefly worked for Merrill Lynch on Wall Street before hitchhiking to San Francisco in 1969, said Dan Gustafson, her ex-husband who remained a close friend after their divorce in 1996.
There she met Gustafson and joined the Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island in protest of Indian rights.
In 1970, she departed on a trip to Mexico that turned into a year-long journey through the Americas, ending when she broke her back when the vehicle she was in sped into a Brahman bull.
She spent three days in a full-body cast in a jungle hospital before a doctor arrived, looked at her X-Rays and prescribed "morphine," the best word she had ever heard at the time, Gustafson said.
She recuperated in the hospital for four months, getting milk for calcium from a Peace Corps volunteer and learning Portuguese.
Her back would pain her for the rest of her life — she had a turned vertebrae — but she never let it slow her down, said Gustafson, who is a board member of the Sonoma Valley School District.
Her later adventures included boarding a Norwegian freighter to Brazil then spending seven months in Argentina, Chile and Peru; joining a Russian icebreaker into the Arctic; taking numerous trips to Africa; and SCUBA diving around the world.
Traveling was when she felt most alive, but she rarely talked about her experiences unless someone really wanted to know, Gustafson said.
"She didn't need to tell anybody what a fun life she had," he said. "She was leading it."
Claire and Gustafson moved to Santa Rosa in 1977 after basically putting their finger on the map and randomly choosing a spot.
A lifetime advocate of women's rights, Claire served as executive director of the Sonoma County Rape Crisis Center where she began a dialogue with author John Irving about his handling of rape in his book "The World According to Garp."
Irving thanked her and the Sonoma County center with "special affection" in the opening of his subsequent book, "The Hotel New Hampshire," which featured a rape crisis center.
Claire also worked at Sonoma County Psychiatric Emergency Services, the Sonoma County Jail Mental Health Program — where she dealt with some of the county's most notorious criminals including Ramon Salcido — and Napa Juvenile Hall where she worked with teenagers.
A voracious reader, and film and theater buff, she lived in Napa for the past decade.
Gustafson is survived by her brothers, Rick Arnold of Murrells Inlet, S.C., and Ted Arnold of Santa Fe, N.M, her niece Lauren Nave of Woburn, Mass., and her nephews Christofor Fissel of San Francisco and Austin Arnold of Santa Fe.
Donations may be sent to the Sonoma County YWCA Domestic Violence Shelter and Sexual Assault Services, P.O.Box 3506, Santa Rosa, 95402. No public services are scheduled.